Opinion One Republican should be thrilled with the Jan. 6 hearings

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
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By Jennifer Rubin
Columnist |
June 7, 2022 at 7:45 a.m. EDT

Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP remains superior to any other Republican, but it is not absolute. That means the Jan. 6 hearings, which Trump allies have decried as a partisan witch hunt, may prompt even hardcore Republicans to conclude that the defeated former president is simply not worth the trouble.
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The hearings arrive this week as Republicans and the punditocracy debate whether Trump is losing influence over the party. Some of his most highly touted candidates (e.g., Georgia gubernatorial candidate David Perdue) lost in the primaries. Overall, Axios calculates that among Trump’s 173 endorsements, Trump “is far weaker when candidates running unopposed or in non-competitive races are filtered out.” Looking at 27 competitive races that have been decided, he’s 19-8.
Two other factors suggest that Trump’s appeal has become a function of him following the MAGA cult, rather than leading it. First, and most vividly, he was compelled to effectively reverse his sycophancy toward Russian President Vladimir Putin after the bulk of the GOP voters came down strongly on the side of Ukraine in its ongoing war with Russia. After first praising Putin for the invasion, Trump changed course and focused on ridiculing the U.S. response and throwing out idiotic ideas on what he would do differently.
Second, there is a viable challenger for the MAGA constituency in 2024: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Trump routinely slams DeSantis, a sure sign he is worried about the competition.


DeSantis, unlike other GOP candidates who might run as right-wing zealots but are tiptoeing away from Trump’s most bizarre conspiracy theories (e.g., former vice president Mike Pence), offers undiluted zealotry. He made his brand, just as Trump did, with conspiracy theory-mongering, pandering to white grievance, subverting elections and fixating on the right-wing media agenda. The governor has interfered with covid-19 masking and vaccination mandates; targeted critical race theory in schools, even though it isn’t being taught; ostracized LGBTQ kids and punished Disney for daring to object; and refused to repudiate white nationalists.
Small government? The free market? Don’t be ridiculous. All of this falls squarely within the Trump model.
If the GOP primary base decides it wants Trumpism without its embarrassing and counterproductive elements, DeSantis would be their guy. And there are some small signs DeSantis remains on the minds of the MAGA faithful. While DeSantis’s straw-poll victory over Trump at this past weekend’s Western Conservative Summit in Denver means little statistically, it does mean the Florida governor remains far and away the most likely alternative for the Trump cultists. (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz came in more than 40 percentage points behind DeSantis and Trump.) DeSantis also recently won a Wisconsin straw poll.
That brings us back to the Jan. 6 hearings. To the extent they pump up Democrats, make it harder for Trump sycophants to keep defending the “big lie,” induce the media to treat Trump as a criminal suspect and push prosecutors in the direction of indicting him, DeSantis would clearly be the beneficiary — and he wouldn’t even need to comment on the proceedings. (Indeed, simply slamming Democrats without really defending Trump, seems to be a comfortable spot for the spineless Republicans who dare not denounce the attempted coup.)
Over time, DeSantis can make his case that Democrats won’t be able to hang Jan. 6 around his neck and that by passing on Trump as the next presidential nominee, the party can finally put the 2020 election behind it. And watching Trump dive back into his obsessive denial of the 2020 results might just remind enough Republicans they are sick of defending the indefensible.